Update: In a late Saturday night vote, Congressman Cooper voted in favor of a sweeping health care reform bill.
U.S. Representative Jim Cooper joined only two House Democrats to vote against passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Four hundred Democratic and Republican lawmakers approving the historic legislation [403 to 20] apparently didn’t dampen his certainty that his colleagues were wrong.
Later, he joined Tom Delay and some others to oppose the final Senate-House conference version that passed the House [377 to 28] and became law under President Bush’s signature.
Following House passage, Rep. Cooper was quoted as saying he was “for disability rights” but added that the ADA “is so poorly drafted that many, many small businesses will suffer unnecessarily.”
Those that drafted it had a different view.
Former Senator Robert Dole said the ADA “seeks to end the unjustified segregation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life.” He concluded it was “fair and balanced” (Fox News would be proud) legislation that “carefully blends the rights of people with disabilities ... with the legitimate needs of the American business community." So too did Newt Gingrich and even Strom Thurmond, and fellow Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon, all of whom supported the ADA when the historic moment came.
Rep. Cooper, a man I proudly support with my vote, was wrong about the ADA. Since its enactment (and its recent amendments), although flawed like many laws, it has been universally lauded on both sides of the aisle as a powerful and effective expression of our country’s commitment to the equality, dignity and freedom of each American.
Which brings us to today’s health insurance reform debate. It’s unclear, but Cooper at least seems poised to vote against any bill he has not drafted and considers flawed. This in the face of millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans, rising health care costs for everyone and repeated practices of persons denied care when they get sick.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got nothing against smart people (some of my best friends…). We need more of them, and Rep. Cooper is often labeled the smartest man in Congress with good reason. We need smart people with no room for flaws for things like rocket ship designs and brain surgery. But when it comes to Congress, sometimes we need smart folks to also be effective lawmakers.
When the historic moment comes, here’s hoping the effective Rep. Cooper we all love shows up, not just the smart one who voted against the ADA.
Byrd is a Nashville attorney and former Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief for the Associated Baptist Press.